Day 30.5: Electronic Cheating

6 11 2009

At our university there is a strong culture of honesty. No, I am not naive enough to think that our students don’t cheat–in fact, I actually presented a research paper on this topic a few years ago, and it appears that we have our share of folks who take shortcuts. So, as we move into new methods of testing and evaluation I am keeping an open eye for new and better ways to cheat. While this topic is much too involved for me to cover here, let me just mention at least one advantage these new tools give us in keeping our students honest.

Consider this email I received Monday after our quiz:

It is awkward for me to tell you this but I think it is necessary to let you know. This morning, when we were taking the quiz I did not  like the grade that I made and I wanted to figure out what I did wrong so, I  looked back at the questions but to be able to look at the entire quiz I had to answer the questions all over again. When I had answered everything, I was tempted again to see how I did for that second time so I clicked on submit. I just wanted to tell you the truth first before there is any confusion about it. I am really sorry about this confusion and I hope it is not going to have any bad consequences.

Thank you for your understanding and I am sincerely sorry.

Now, without even getting into how much of this is true or false, or what this student’s motives might be, consider that any student in that class could have taken the quiz twice…or worse, just kept the quiz open while we discussed the material in class…or simply waited until after class ended to log on and complete it.

There are several solutions to each of these, but the simplest one involves information which the quiz software logs automatically: completion time. I open the quiz at 10:05 and give my students the password. In the results spreadsheet, I see a list, by time, of when each one logged on and when each one logged off. Typically they all wrap up by 10:12 or 10:15. If I see one who logs off at 10:45, I know he kept the quiz open throughout the class. If I see a student who took it twice (like the one in the email) I know to record the first score and mention to the student that one time per quiz is enough. And if I see a student who first opens the quiz at 1:30 that afternoon, I have a solid case for an academic integrity filing.

Beyond catching these types of events after they occur, there are ways to prevent them. I always use a quiz password, which I provide in class, so a student at home with the textbook can’t complete the quiz. Quizzes can be set to ‘lock out’ at a certain time, so if a student isn’t logged in by 10:10, he won’t be logging in at all. Randomized question order helps with wandering eyes in class, and of course an attentive teacher remains probably the strongest deterrent of all.

In the case of the student who e-mailed, I thanked him for his honesty, I explained that I would have known he took it twice, and I encouraged him to take quizzes only one time from here on out. I’m not sure if that was the right response or not; but in cases like that I am rarely sure I did the right thing. Maybe someday…




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